Johnson Carragher Kyrgiakos Konchesky
Shelvey Meireles Jovanovic
Gerrard 75' 88' (pen) 89'
Ste Gerrard, Gerrard. He's big and he's fucking hard. And he can still win games almost single-handedly.
With a similar line-up to that which started in Italy, the first half went as feared. Napoli found it far easier to penetrate with the home side more interested in maintaining possession – although it unsurprisingly led to few efforts on goal – leaving Liverpool exposed on the counter-attack, capitalizing when usual scapegoat Poulsen made a jaw-dropping mistake in the 28th.
Attempting to clear, the Dane badly mistimed his jump, heading straight to Cavani. The Uruguayan slotted it through to Lavezzi, beating the offside trap as Johnson stepped up when Kyrgiakos didn't, and the forward made no mistake in sliding his shot under the diving and helpless Reina. Liverpool almost replied immediately, though Ngog thanks to Poulsen's throughball, only to see the striker push his shot wide under pressure from Aronica, but the home team struggled to make headway against an increasingly deeper defense, who were happy to protect what they had.
Bringing Gerrard on at halftime ultimately won Liverpool the game, but for almost half an hour, it only made Liverpool narrower. It was a surprise to see the captain replaced Jovanovic – one of the few who actually looked a threat in the first frame. Meireles and Shelvey manned the flanks with Gerrard behind Ngog, and the lanky Frenchman had a second opportunity to equalize in the 51st, foiled by De Sanctis' foot after nice work from Shelvey and Meireles, but Liverpool didn't truly improve until Eccelston replaced Poulsen with 25 minutes to play.
Despite his inexperience, adding Eccleston's pace (and removing one of the five central midfielders) gave the home side far more impetus. Meireles should have leveled seconds later, missing a close-range shot by inches after Ngog's control inadvertently set him up with a sitter. But then, we got yet another Steven Gerrard show.
And it started thanks to a former Liverpool player. Shelvey picked up possession in a dangerous area and ran at the defense, only to be crowded out. But Andrea Dossena's soft backpass allowed Gerrard to charge in, reaching the keeper just as he attempted a diving clearance, tackling the ball into the net.
When Lucas replaced the injured Ngog – hobbled by a horrible tackle that the referee somehow missed – with seven minutes to play, it appeared Liverpool were happy with what they had. But three minutes later, Johnson charged forward, played into space by a lovely ball from Meireles, winning a penalty with a wicked run into the box. Funny how things like that happen when an attacking right-back's allowed to attack. Gerrard duly converted the spot kick, with De Sanctis going the right way but unable to keep out the vicious blast.
A minute later, the captain wrapped up the three points and snatched a deserved 14-minute hat-trick. Lucas latched onto Dossena's poor control of Spearing's header, tackling straight to the captain, who chipped the keeper with a Dalglish-esque finish.
Yes, Gerrard's heroics will obscure others' subpar displays. It's beating the same drum time and time again, but Poulsen yet again proved he shouldn't be anywhere near the starting XI. Like so many other matches, this was The Gerrard Show, and otherwise a fairly poor team performance until the final 25-30 minutes. But regardless of any complaints about the tactics or personnel, it's an incredibly heartening victory – Liverpool's third successive – if only because it proves that the captain can still do it. Besides Gerrard's genius, young players like Shelvey, Spearing, and Eccleston had a chance to shine at Anfield, Carragher and Kyrgiakos were solid at the back, Johnson finally reminded us what he can do in the opposition's final third, Torres was rested with no consequences, and as against Bolton, Liverpool demonstrated they still have late winners in the locker.
Obviously, you wish the victory was more emphatic, cohesive, and thorough, but this still sets Liverpool up nicely for Chelsea's visit on Sunday.